Monthly Archives: June 2016

Ways to Grow Your Business

Much like a plant, a business requires care, attention and the proper conditions in order to grow and flourish. You might think you have your growth formula all figured out, but if you’ve tried it and aren’t achieving the results you want, it might be time to take a different approach.

Entrepreneurs and business leaders shared their experiences with some overlooked, unconventional methods for growth, and offered advice for taking your business to the next level.

It seems counterintuitive, but sometimes the best way to make a sale is by not actually selling anything. Playing the long game — that is, offering no-strings-attached help and advice for the sake of building up a relationship — earns a potential client’s trust and makes that person more likely to come to you in the future, said Bart Mroz, founder and CEO of digital commerce consultancy.

“Become a trusted resource within your industry and community,” Mroz said. “A great way to do this is by actively engaging on relevant social media groups, blogs, forums, etc. During my free time, I like to participate in any conversation where I can provide insight and tips for the curious, but I make sure not to directly promote and sell my services. These aren’t your traditional customer acquisition channels, so they shouldn’t be approached as such.”

Mroz also noted that this approach lets you position yourself as an expert, and keeps you up-to-date with the latest industry trends, so you’ll know what your customers are looking for.

Most startups dream of huge growth in their early days. But taking it from 0 to 100 right away isn’t always the best way to grow. John Shapiro, director of product management in the small business group at Intuit, advised you to limit your growth at first, and hone in on a very small segment of your target market.

“Focus on a small microcosm, whether that’s a geography, industry vertical or something else,” Shapiro said. “You want to get to critical density, which is a lot easier to do if you reduce the ground you’re trying to cover. Think of Facebook’s growth strategy — they focused on one, then two, then four college campuses. They added campus by campus over time, and it was years before they opened up to all consumers.”

Highly focused and personalized service to your early customers will generate positive word-of-mouth branding very quickly, Shapiro said. This will help you build that solid base you need for greater growth in the future.

Retail today is all about omnichannel customer service and marketing: You have to be where your customers are and reach them through their preferred channels. The omnichannel mentality can even be applied to the locations in which you sell your products.

Many retailers who operate out of a physical store have expanded their operations to the web and sell products both online and in the store. Online-only businesses can benefit from this approach by expanding to a brick-and-mortar location, if they have the resources for it.

For example, online mattress retailer Leesa recently opened up a flagship store in New York City to showcase its products in a new and different way than they had been doing.

“It may seem unconventional and even counterintuitive, but often for e-commerce businesses, establishing a physical brick-and-mortar presence is one of the most cost-efficient ways to drive online leads and generate brand awareness,” said Matt Hayes, Leesa’s director of marketing. “Opening our Leesa Dream Gallery retail concept … allowed customers to try the Leesa mattress for themselves in a pressure-free environment.”

Similarly, Rahul Mewawalla, CEO of social and mobile referral platform Everfave, advised brick-and-mortar businesses to borrow tech-savvy digital methods from their e-commerce counterparts to increase growth.

“Businesses have to look ahead of the curve,” Mewawalla said. “We went from traditional advertising like TV [and] radio to internet-based marketing in the last 15 years, and the next 15 years will be focused on mobile and social-based approaches. To stand out and be more effective, businesses have to continuously look at new and novel ways to grow.”

Entrepreneurship is all about stepping outside your comfort zone, so the act of taking a risk may not seem all that unconventional. But the specific risk you take — whatever it is that seems like it’s too wild and “out there” for your business — could prove to be the spark that serves as a catalyst for growth.

Kerrie Hileman, owner of The White Magnolia bridal boutiques, said a reality TV star recently shopped in one of their stores for an upcoming segment of her show, complete with a camera crew. Hileman admitted that she was wary of being filmed and nervous about how the business might be portrayed on the show, but ended up having a very positive experience. As a result, the reality star featured The White Magnolia on her Instagram page and gave a huge boost for Hileman’s business.

“The group was absolutely amazing to work with,” she told Business News Daily. “We have noticed a huge jump in our Instagram following and have even had brides who came in to shop because they knew the reality star found her gown here. We are so happy we took the risk, and it’s paid off tenfold already.”

“Don’t be afraid,” Intuit’s Shapiro added. “If you want to grow your company unconventionally and successfully, you need to be comfortable taking the appropriate risks.”

 

Critical to Email Marketing Success

More and more businesses are seeing the value in making a good first impression with their email marketing efforts. New research from Campaigner, the email marketing brand of j2 Global Inc., found that nearly 40 percent of online retailers make sure the first email they send new subscribers is a “thank you for subscribing” message.

The quick introductory message appears to be paying off: Half of the businesses surveyed said 21 percent or more of new subscribers engage with such welcome emails, such as by opening the email, clicking thru to the website or forwarding it on to others.

Similarly to what happens with in-person interactions — when it takes just seconds to form a lasting impression — email marketing first impressions are also critical and time-sensitive, said EJ McGowan, general manager of Campaigner.

Marketers who quickly deliver engaging welcome emails to new subscribers will see greater success in conversions while also building brand reputation,” McGowan said in a statement.

The study found that most businesses don’t wait long to send out welcome emails: More than 60 percent of those surveyed said their new subscribers receive their first message from the brand within 24 hours of signing up.

As for the best time to send out a welcome email, most online businesses agree that the earlier, the better. The research showed that 35 percent of the businesses surveyed believe between 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. is the ideal time to garner responses from new subscribers, while 25 percent think that between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. is best.

Businesses are using a variety of methods to entice customers to sign up for their emails. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed offer the latest news and content to their customers as incentives to subscribe, and 49 percent use standard promotions as an incentive.

Instead of just text, most businesses include pictures and videos as a way to grab recipients’ attention. Specifically, 87 percent of marketers include images in their welcome emails, and 26 percent include videos.

Despite knowing the value of welcome emails, 60 percent of the businesses surveyed think they could be doing more to make their welcome emails even more useful.

“Transactional messages such as welcome emails provide unique opportunities for companies to get in front of interested contacts,” McGowan said. “If marketers aren’t already using them, now is the time to start.”

 

Tips to Create an Effective Marketing Plan

Most small business owners know the importance of a business plan, which outlines your company’s course for success. One crucial element of that plan is your marketing strategy.

Because this strategy is buried in the larger business plan, many small business owners may not give marketing the time, research and attention it deserves, assuming that they know their customer base and how to reach them. But an in-depth and detailed approach to laying out your marketing strategy can reveal opportunities from a new audience or potential product line, pitfalls in pricing, competition reaction, and potential reach.

At its most basic, a marketing plan describes who your customers are, where they get information and how you are going to reach them. Robert J. Thomas, a marketing professor at the McDonough School of Business at Georgetown University, said the development of a marketing plan requires that you complete four specific tasks:

1. Develop a very clear and focused insight into why a potential customer would use your business. More specifically, figure out the core need that your product or service will meet. Is it to help your customers get through the day more easily? Do their job more efficiently? Be respected and admired by friends? Your offering should be designed to solve client problems or meet customer needs better than the competition can.

2. Identify your target customers. There are numerous potential customers in most markets, but to succeed faster and better, a small business must study the market and determine the characteristics of its best target customers. The target customer should be described in detail. Create an avatar, or fictional person, who has all of your target-customer attributes, and examine what that person would say, do, feel and think in the course of a day.

3. Identify competitors that would also want your target customers. No matter how original your product or service may be, there is always competition for your target customer’s dollar. Small businesses seldom take the time to study their competitors in depth, or determine competition that may be outside their industry but just as capable of luring the customer away. Preparing to know who that is, what their core competitive advantage is and how they will respond to your offering (price cuts, increased communication, etc.) will help you figure out strategies to combat such losses.

4. Write down your brand-positioning statement for your target customers. Ultimately, your brand and what it symbolizes for customers will be your strongest competitive advantage. You should be able to write down a simple declarative sentence of how you will meet customer needs and beat the competition. The best positioning statements are those that are single-minded and focus on solving a problem for the customer in a way that promotes the best value.

Now that you know the elements of the plan, you need to figure out how you are going to reach that target customer. Aside from traditional print and broadcast media, here are three tech-driven marketing channels that many of today’s business owners utilize.

Social media has become an essential part of businesses’ marketing plans because every type of customer is on some type of platform, such as Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn and other networks. Small business owners can feel overwhelmed at the possibilities but should focus on the ones that can benefit them the most.

Brett Farmiloe, founder of internet marketing company Markitors, advised companies that are just getting started in social media to get to know their customers and what platforms they are using.

“Figure out where your customers are spending their time, and set up shop on those platforms,” Farmiloe told Business News Daily. “Develop a content strategy that can be executed internally, [and then] execute your strategy by posting branded content on your selected platforms. While all three steps are key, the biggest one is really determining if your customers are on these platforms.”

Though email marketing may not be a new concept like social media marketing, it is an effective and popular choice for many small business owners. Companies can implement email-marketing techniques in a number of ways, including using newsletters, promotional campaigns and transactional emails. Companies such as MailChimp and Constant Contact make it easy for companies to manage their email campaigns.

Farmiloe noted that companies can set their email marketing efforts apart by segmenting their markets.

“Not all subscribers want to receive the same blast,” Farmiloe said. “Smart email marketers take the time to segment subscribers at the outset, and then continue to segment based on subscriber activity. Through segmentation, companies reduce the amount of unsubscribes, increase open rates and, most importantly, increase the amount of actions taken from an email send.”

 

Tips to Make the Most of Your Dollars

When you’re running a small business that has limited resources, every dollar counts. This is especially true of your marketing budget: You need to figure out which activities will draw the largest amount of leads for the fewest dollars.

Not every type of marketing works for every industry, product or service. Businesses need to identify those methods that are sustainable and that get desired results. However, across the board, social media tends to be one of the most cost-effective methods of marketing.

John Donnelly III, senior vice president of global sales and marketing for Crimson Hexagon, a social media analytics company, said that even conservative companies are thinking about spending a majority of their marketing dollars on social media.

“Social media [can] capture insights [and help you] listen to your audience about what they have to say about the product or service,” Donnelly said.

That data can prove invaluable as businesses market existing products or look at launching new lines, he said. Through social media analytics, Donnelly said, “you can see what happened in the past, [discover] what [is happening] now and identify best approaches for the future.”

Social media isn’t the only way to reach customers. Mike Boyd, franchise owner and chief operating officer of the Instant Imprints promotional product franchise, said that he and his wife/co-owner, Linda, have stuck to the methods that work best for them. That includes weekly emails, direct mailings and pay-per-click campaigns.

“For many years, we let what we didn’t know about that discipline stop us from doing anything,” Boyd told Business News Daily. “Once we stopped trying to figure out ‘marketing’ and instead did things that would make us more visible to the people who wanted to be our customers, stuff started to happen.”

The Boyds have also worked at acquiring new customers by becoming active in local networking organizations, such as BNI and the chamber of commerce.

“We knew that sitting within the four walls of our shop and waiting for the next customer to find us wasn’t a good plan,” Boyd said. “You need to become a business leader in your community.”

While it’s good to stick with tried-and-true tactics, Boyd said small business owners can’t be afraid to alter their plans when some aspects aren’t working.

“All of our tactics haven’t survived [since we started],” Boyd said.

For example, he said the company originally participated in a business “welcome wagon” program that introduced it to all the new businesses in the community. While this helped the Boyds meet a lot of new people, Boyd said, it never turned into actual sales. So, instead of spending money on that, they repurposed those funds to a Google AdWords pay-per-click program.

“We have had that kind of evolution,” Boyd said.

Your small business marketing plan needs to revolve around making yourself more visible to those you don’t already know and keeping customers in the fold after a sale is made.  Social media allows a company to reach out before, during and after every transaction and stay engaged.

Weekly emails and post-purchase thank-you notes, like those the Boyds send, are another way to do the same thing.

“That really makes an impression on customers,” Boyd said. “They don’t expect you to carry on the dialogue after the transaction.”